You will probably notice that some of the candy in Japan contains milk. Vegans also need to check for things like honey (蜂蜜 はちみつ hachimitsu OR ハニー hanī), gelatine (ゼラチン) and animal-derived food colouring (e.g. lac/ラック, which is from the lac insect and cochineal (コチニール), also produced from insects). It appears that while bright pinks are often synthetically produced, soft pinks such as the ones in Japanese sweets like daifuku sometimes come from cochineal. Shellac, also from insects, can also be listed on labels as 光沢剤 kōtaku-zai, (food) polisher/brightener, so it isn’t possible to know if that polisher/brightener is vegan without asking the manufacturer.
However, there is a lot of interesting vegan candy in Japan (of course there is always a question about whether the sugar was refined using animal bone char and whether the colouring agents were tested on animals). Let’s have a look at some of the common types of candy in Japan.
First, one that appears to be vegan, but which isn’t. It contains lac as a colouring agent.
• Kasugai Konpeitō/春日井こんぺいとう. Ingredients: Sugar, colouring (lac, yellow 4, yellow 5, blue 1). Photo from website.
However, Kasugai does make another variety of konpeito that does not contain lac.
Ingredients: Sugar, flavouring, coloring (safflower yellow, paprika pigment, gardenia, red beet).
From website: Colorful sugar confection that was transmitted from Portugal in the Muromachi period. You can enjoy 5 tastes (sugar, peach, apples, grapes, cider). Photo from website.
According to the manufacturer, in the ball type in the Chocolate Effects series, the shellac is listed as 光沢剤 kōtaku-zai, (food) polisher/brightener, so this product is not vegan.
In Japan, some types of candy that would ordinarily contain gelatine contain agar (寒天- kanten) instead. One example is the fruit jellies below. However it seems that many jelly beans made using agar also contain lactose, so are not vegan.
• Fruits Up Jelly. Ingredients: Sugar, starch syrup, agar, oligosaccharide, starch, flavouring, colouring (red 102, yellow 4, yellow 5, blue 1, blue 2). Note: It is not known whether the flavouring is vegan.
These similar-looking fruit jellies from a supermarket also use agar, but are not vegan because they contain cochineal (コチニール).
• Agar Fruit Jellies/寒天フルーツゼリー. Ingredients: Sugar, starch syrup, agar, sorbitol, flavouring, colouring (cochineal, gardenia pigment, safflower yellow), pH adjusting agent.